The Chicago Bulls blew a 20 point lead midway through the third quarter Monday night, eventually losing to the New Orleans Pelicans 123-115. Jimmy Butler's struggles since the opening preseason game continue, as he is now 5-28 from the field in the past three games. Even with the loss, there are still some positives to be found. Doug McDermott continues his upward trajectory with confidence oozing out of his pores, while rookie Bobby Portis is giving Fred Hoiberg no reason to not play him.
As per usual this preseason, the Bulls got off to a fast start Monday night, moving the ball well and finding the open man repeatedly. Even as Anthony Davis was destroying worlds on one end, the Bulls outscored the Pelicans 37-25 at the end of the first, finishing 5-8 from deep. But more importantly, the opening quarter featured the Pau Gasol-Kendrick Perkins, McDermott-Luke Babbitt match-ups we'd all been vying to see.
As the second quarter proceeded, the Bulls scoring arsenal resumed, which totaled 50 points with just over seven minutes left in the quarter. Chicago's hot shooting from deep continued as well, ending the quarter 8-17 from long range. Though Butler struggled offensively, the spacing and ball movement, albeit thanks to some help from having Kendrick Perkins on the floor, the Bulls were still able to score efficiently, taking a 66-54 lead into the half.
Chicago came out clicking to start the second half, pushing their lead to as much as 20 midway through the third quarter. At one point, there were five straight possessions where only one Bull stepped foot in the paint.
In a 5-possession stretch for Bulls, Pau hasn't gone in paint and Niko only set one foot in there once, on PnR dive. It's efficient.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 13, 2015
However, six unanswered points by the Pelicans began an eventual run to bring New Orleans back into the game. The Pelicans shifted its offense from Davis to Tyreke Evans, who orchestrated the comeback on both ends, bringing the Pelicans all the way back from down 20 to take the lead. During the run the Pelicans caught fire from three, shooting 6-8 from downtown in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Bulls' ball movement and spacing from the first half vanished as they reverted to stagnant, one on one play hindering the offense. Defense was nowhere to be found.
New Orleans took a 91-90 lead into the fourth in a "Battle of the Benches" and never looked back, controlling the final period of play. E'Twaun Moore tried to will the Bulls back, getting their deficit to as little as four, but the small mistakes that plagued Chicago during New Orleans' comeback put the final nail in the coffin. In much like what happened in the second quarter of last week's fiasco in Denver, the Bulls ability to maintain the lead, in addition to the mental strength to withstand a run, led to the final undoing.
Other Quick Observations:
- Bobby Portis continues to strengthen his case for playing time once the regular season starts. Monday night, the rookie finished with 20 points on 8-12 shooting, 2-2 from three, with 11 boards (four offensive), one assist and three blocks. His energy on the glass, and being able to stretch the floor the way he does is making it extremely difficult for Hoiberg not to give him minutes on a regular basis.
- McDermott finished the night with 17 points on 5-11 shooting, 3-9 from three to go along with eight rebounds. Ever since that second half against the Milwaukee Bucks last week, everything has begun to click for McBuckets. The confidence in his game right now is palpable. He's making the right reads offensively, whether it's coming off a screen for a shot, his cuts through the defense or finding the open man on the drive. McDermott is still a work in progress on defense, but his game his trending upward.
- As noted in the opening, Butler's recent struggles cannot go unnoticed. At the moment, his jump shot just isn't there, and because of so, there's been times where he's forced the offense instead of letting it come to him. The 5-23 number is obviously worrisome at the moment, but don't fret for it's likely it'll turnaround at some point soon. Butler is staying aggressive which all you can really ask for.
- Tony Snell started to come to life offensively towards the end of the first half, and it carried over into the second. He finished with 15 points on 7-11 shooting. Though he only shot two three's, Snell showed more aggression in going to the hole Monday night. Much like how the second half against the Bucks seemed to be a turning point for McDermott, hopefully the same can potentially be said for Snell in due time. Unfortunately Snell rolled his right ankle in the waning minutes and had to be helped off the court, but it's reportedly just a minor sprain.
- The backup point guard position remains unclear. Kirk Hinrich has started the last three games, since missing the opening game. But Hoiberg has let each of Hinrich, Moore and Aaron Brooks see extended minutes to provide their case for the spot. Though it's nothing huge, it's something to keep an eye on.
The Bulls take the court on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, tip-off set for 7pm.